First Impressions: Tom Clancy’s The Division
The first time I saw Tom Clancy’s The Division was back at E3 2013. The pitch sounded amazing: a destroyed city that had suffered the wraith of an almost complete societal breakdown and decent into anarchy, the result of a massive pandemic that spread quickly and violently. The Division is inspired by a real life government operation known as Dark Winter that simulated a massive bio-terrorist attack on US soil. The reality is our current infrastructure is nowhere near prepared to deal with an outbreak on this scale and the results could be dire; emergency services and law enforcement become quickly overwhelmed, basic infrastructure starts to break down, and global shipping and transit become non-existent. Within weeks society as we know it ceases to exist with massive electrical grid failures, lack of clean water, fuel, or access to food.
The Division is set in a post-pandemic Manhattan on Black Friday after a Smallpox virus rapidly spreads throughout the United States via infected US paper currency. Within 5 days the US Government has effectively collapsed, and the result is total chaos. You play as a member of The Division, short hand for the Strategic Homeland Division. A top-secret government force of well-trained agents with the goal of piecing what’s left of society back together. Because I spend way too much personal time on weapons research and government contingency plans I was hooked pretty fast, but I would get to see the fruits of the developers labor until the Microsoft spring showcase in February 2016. The result is familiar to anyone who enjoys 3rd person action games but with a much bigger focus on co-op, seamless transitions, and exploration.
From the ground up the division feels focused on drop-in drop-out co-op and creating a seamless experience. After our initial session was started we encountered zero loading times while exploring the open world game map. The primary objective in The Division is building up and upgrading your base of operation, allowing access to more facilities, tech, and upgrades. This is where you will find the typical vendors and quick ammo restock crates as well as acting as your main hub. Progression and loot is on a per-player basis, meaning every player has their own loot drops to prevent competition and there is no issue in joining up with players that have progressed through the game further than you have, or those that are just starting out. This is probably the most important feature of The Division, to easily facilitate joining up with your buddies easily and without segregating the player base.
The main streets pit you against the various factions carving out territory in the power vacuum created during the wake of the collapse. Like any good open world game The Division has plenty of activities to keep you distracted. Aside from the main quest side missions and random encounters of sorts keep things relatively interesting often taking the form of small shoot outs or hostage rescue. Exploring abandoned buildings for weapons, armor, tech upgrades and other objects of desire. Enemies you run into will start small firefights if they see you or start returning fire if you’re first to engage. While the enemy AI I have seen so far aren’t tactical masterminds they will take cover and try to flank you, with both sides often moving between cover under suppressing fire for the best vantage point.
The UI has changed considerably since the original E3 unveiling, with a streamlined interface for managing your inventory, groups, abilities, weapons, etc, , what we usually expect from an FPS with RPG elements as well as minimalistic on-screen indicators for HP, ammo count, grenades, etc. While the original map interface was impressive it’s easy to see how confusing it may have been, so the same effect is here but with a lot more readability for quickly navigating through the carnage. On the fly firearm customization lets you dress up standard rifles, PDWs, SMGs, and other firearms both Cold War era and Modern with the usual arrangement of tactical furniture including laser sights, optics, muzzle devices, forward vertical grips, and various other gadgets for modifying your stats and your play style as well the overall effectiveness of your arms.
Weather effects combined with dynamic lighting set the tone well for the feeling of desperation the game wants to evoke. The various civilians wandering around trying to survive, the occasional stray dog, and the 100s of cars abandoned on the street all set the tone very well while many aspects of the city, particularly the interiors of most buildings show how little time has passed since the initial start crisis. The Dark-zone on the other hand is where things really hit the fan, a no-man’s land completely walled off from the rest of the city these areas function as PVP zones as well where you can acquire some of the best loot. Experience levels and currency are all separate inside the Dark zone with specific level requirements for higher-tier gear. Communications are limited, visibility is low, and the threat level is kicked up a notch. Corpses still litter the street, virtually no effort has been made to keep the peace after multiple government agencies lost and failed to regain control. Different areas of the Dark Zone are segregated based on recommended level pre-requisites, so a group of both high and low-level players can always find a happy medium or take up a bigger challenge if they wish.
While some of the best gear can indeed be found in the desolation, it’s contaminated and has to be stored on your person and decontaminated before it’s usable. However the fact you are now carrying around valuable loot is very apparent to anyone within your AO, and makes you a very tasty target for hostile players within the zone. Rouge Division agents out for themselves are also a priority target for those still holding allegiance with the SHD within the zone. These situations make for very intense and chaotic firefights now that real humans are facing off against each other, with the tactics employed being much more precise and carefully executed. Going rouge however puts a bounty on your head as well as increasing the consequences of dying, but the risk might be worth it while in the zone. That’s one of the best features of The Division for me, a segregated PVP area with no loading times that’s segmented from the rest of the game world that has a unique feeling all it’s own.
Overall The Division strikes me as a game very similar to most open world loot and shooters but with enough of a different setting and world structure to keep things interesting and feeling unique. Tom Clancy’s The Division launches on March 8th 2016 on X1, PS4, and PC.